As Austin tackles gentrification, audit shows most ideas don’t become solutions


AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new city of Austin audit found that out of the 541 recommendations and resolutions to tackle gentrification and displacement, only 56 would make a direct impact and are actually implemented.

The report measures the real world effects of city actions from 2000 to 2017 and found that most items never made a dent in the issue.

Mayor Steve Adler told KXAN the audit will help the council focus on what they can and should do. “The audit is exactly the information we wanted the recently created Displacement Task Force to have before it started its work,” Adler wrote KXAN. “Now, that task force can learn the lessons of the past, what’s allowed under the law, what works and what doesn’t, what hidden gems have been forgotten and deliver real, actionable solutions for the Council to act upon.”

Community activists say only having 10 percent of ideas turn into reality represents all talk and no action.

For community activist Fred McGhee, the city finally put on paper what he thought was happening all along. “Lip service, you know,” said McGhee, who took KXAN to Burdett Prairie Cemetery to call city leaders to reinforce and repair what’s already in the city before bringing new development. For him, it’s a symptom of larger forces.

“Money, politics, power, a let them eat cake mindset in our elected officials,” said McGhee.

Katie Houston managed the report for the city auditor and presented it to the task force. She says calls for action are either too broad or violate existing law, and there simply isn’t a way to keep track of projects.

Below are two highlighted actions from the audit and the reason for their non-implementation.

  1. The City should maximize tax incentives for preservation
  2. We recommend a mandatory linkage fee to fund creating and preserving substantial affordable housing, based on the Denver model. Based on current projections and 2015 data, if Austin were to implement a linkage fee of $2 per square foot, it could raise $60 million annually for the fund, which could create 400 housing units at $150,000 each.

In regards to the first item, the auditors determined the item was “too broad as worded.” In regards to the second item, the report indicated the city can’t implement linkage fees, because “State legislation passed in 2017 prohibited municipalities from instituting linkage fees.”

“Without that specific tie, it’s difficult to know what has been done or the work that is remaining at this point,” said Houston. She says the ideas are good but the follow through needs work.

McGhee is more cynical and says the inaction is intentional. “Requests for reform from below. Oh, that’s like pulling teeth. We must have task forces and studies and academic symposium,” said McGhee.

KXAN reached out for a response from interim City Manager Elaine Hart. She’s out of the office the rest of the week. The new city manager, Spencer Cronk, doesn’t start until Monday.

According to the audit, since 2001, the city has created six task forces to address gentrification.

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